Utah to bid for 2026 Winter Olympics

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah officials announced plans Monday for a longshot bid for another Winter Olympics, saying they already have the venues in place and have left behind the taint of scandal from the 2002 games.

The bid for 2026 is contingent on the U.S. Olympic Committee deciding it will endorse a city for those games. Utah announced a bid far in advance to scare off any competitors, Reno-Tahoe among them. Nevada officials said Monday they were waiting for a USOC decision before making a possible bid of their own.

"You can't do this on the cheap. It's an expensive proposition," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday. "Utah is the smart and fiscally responsible place -- we already have venues in place. There is no better place in the world than here."

Forty percent of U.S. winter athletes train in Utah, one reason the state is looking at adding housing to the Utah Olympic Park, the ski jumping and sliding venue, he said.

Utah's governor and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker announced the tentative bid outside the University of Utah stadium, where ceremonies were held for the 2002 Winter Games.

"We are well-positioned financially and otherwise to host a Winter Games," Becker said.

The 2002 games were successful but left Salt Lake tarnished by scandal. Utah showered $1 million in cash, gifts and other favors on International Olympic Committee delegates in a scandal that rewrote the rule book for Olympic bids. Two Salt Lake bid executives were tried on federal racketeering charges but were acquitted.

The scandal "didn't start in Utah, but it ended in Utah," Herbert said of the scandal's legacy. "We'll start with that attitude and bid on the up and up."

Fraser Bullock, who was the No. 2 for the previous Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said Utah can put on the 2026 games with private funding for $1.67 billion, relying on the federal government to cover hundreds of millions of dollars extra for security.

"The IOC likes to move games around, so that's our biggest negative," Bullock said.

He said Salt Lake City's biggest advantage is having a large urban center next to the 11,000-foot Wasatch Range, with improved highways and a light-rail transit network to get spectators around.

With new bidding rules in place for candidate cities and IOC delegates, Bullock said Utah can make a clean pitch on a level playing field.

"Every penny that's spent needs to be public from day one," Bullock said. "If that happens, we can avoid any problems."

Denver and Reno-Tahoe showed enthusiasm for holding the next available Winter Olympics, in 2020, until the USOC decided to let that opportunity pass. The USOC said it was regrouping to resolve a long-running feud with the IOC about revenue sharing.

A USOC panel is looking at whether to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics or the 2026 Winter Games, and could decide to go for the more glamorous summer games. The panel is set to make a recommendation later this month. The U.S. hasn't hosted any games since the Utah Olympics, and hasn't hosted a Summer Olympics since 1996 in Atlanta.

"Make no mistake, we do want to bid, and we do want to win," USOC chairman Larry Probst told an annual assembly of sports federations in September. "But we will only bid if the business logic is as compelling as the sports logic."

Nevada is biding its time on a 2026 bid.

"Good for Salt Lake. We commend any competition to host the next Winter Olympic Games in North America," said Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who is involved in a coalition hoping to bring back the Winter Games, which were last held in Nevada in 1960 at Squaw Valley.

The USOC, however, has "not called for any interested cities to submit bids for 2026," Krolicki said. "We'll wait for those instructions before making any kind of announcement."

The Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition is pursuing other international winter sporting events as a prelude to the Winter Games, and will hold the 2014 Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas.

USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the organization had no comment Monday on the viability of Salt Lake or any other candidates.

Salt Lake wouldn't be the first city awarded a second Winter Olympics. The list includes Lake Placid, N.Y. (1932 and 1980); St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928 and 1948); and Innsbruck, Austria (1964 and 1976).

The Summer Games have revisited Athens (1896 and 2004); Paris (1900 and 1924); Los Angeles (1932 and 1984), and London, the only city to hold the Summer Games three times (1908, 1948 and 2012.)